Neymar scores his first goal in 5th appearance for Al-Hilal
Al Hilal's Neymar celebrates after scoring a goal against Iran's FC Nassaji Mazandaran during the AFC Champions League Group D football match between Al Hilal and Nassaji Mazandaran at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, October 3, 2023. (AP Photo)

Neymar scored his first goal in his fifth appearance for Al-Hilal on Tuesday as the Saudi Arabian club beat Nassaji Mazandaran 3-0 in Tehran on a calmer day in the Asian Champions League.

Just 24 hours after another Saudi team, Al-Ittihad, left Iran without taking the field against Sepahan, four-time continental champion Al-Hilal was too strong for the Iranian hosts at the Azadi Stadium.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, signed from English Premier League team Fulham in the summer, opened the scoring after 10 minutes.

Neymar, who missed a penalty in last Friday’s win over Al-Shabab in the Saudi Pro League, had been the target of cans and bottles thrown from the home fans in Tehran in possible retaliation for his social media comments that appeared to criticise the state of the field at the stadium.

The former Barcelona superstar, who moved to Riyadh from Paris Saint-Germain in August, silenced the crowd two minutes before the hour as he shot home from the edge of the area. Saleh Al-Shehri added a third in added time.

The win puts Al-Hilal top of Group D with four points.

The 10 group winners and the six best-performing second-place teams will progress to the second round.

Fellow Saudi Arabian team Al-Fayha defeated Pakhtakor 2-0 in Group A with Abdelhamid Sabiri of Morocco scoring both goals.

Japanese champion Yokohama F. Marinos bounced back from an opening game defeat to win 1-0 at China’s Shandong Taishan, while South Korean champion and two-time continental winner Ulsan Hyundai lost 1-0 at Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale.

On Monday, Al-Ittihad refused to play Sepahan and returned to Jeddah in an apparent protest at pitchside busts of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who commanded Iran’s elite Quds Force before he was killed in a United States drone strike in neighboring Iraq in January 2020.

The Asian Football Confederation said in a statement that the Group C match was cancelled “due to unanticipated and unforeseen circumstances,” without elaborating.

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